Sannam S4 Practitioner Series: Volume 1

Challenges for Indian Higher Education: Expansion, Quality, & Internationalization

About the Author

Professor N.V. Varghese is currently Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. He holds a doctoral degree in Economics with specialization in educational planning. He was Director of the Centre for Policy Research in Higher Education (CPRHE/NIEPA), New Delhi (2013-2019); Head of Governance and Management in Education at the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP/UNESCO), Paris (2006- 2013); Head of its Training and Education Programmes at IIEP, Paris (2001- 2006) and Head of higher education and specialized training, at IIEP, Paris (1999-2001).  He has been closely associated with educational planning at the federal and decentralised levels and with the design and development of externally funded education projects in India. He has directed several research projects; published more than 25 books and research reports, and more than 200 research papers and articles ain area related to educational planning, financing and higher education.

Potential for further expansion

Indian higher education system has traditionally been a slow-growing state-supported sector. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) was low at 8.1 per cent in 2000. The adoption of market-friendly reforms in this century relieved the sector from relying on public funding for its expansion. The proliferation of private institutions and multiplication of student numbers resulted in the massification of the sector. With a GER of 25.8 and more than 900 universities, 40,000 colleges, 1.3 million teachers and 36.6 million students in 2017-18, the Indian higher education sector has become the second-largest in the world.

The private (household) funding, open universities and the technology-assisted learning facilities along with the brick and mortar system will be relied on to expand the sector in the future. The country has developed a MOOCs platform (SWAYAM) which is one of the largest online free E-Learning portals in the world. Since market mediated massification is accompanied by persisting inequalities, the challenge will be to address the issues of equality of opportunity and diversity of student body.

Learning outcomes and employability of graduates

The low overall quality and wide disparities in quality between institutions characterize Indian higher education. The accreditation agencies are in place, but a large majority of institutions still remain to be accredited. Although the draft New Education Policy (NEP) 2019 envisages to increase institutional capacity to accredit by establishing multiple accreditation institutions, India has miles to travel to reach the destination of accrediting all institutions.

Indian institutions do not fare well in the world ranking of universities either. As per the latest QS rankings nine institutions have featured in Top 500 rankings with only three institutions (IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi and IISc Bengaluru) ranked within top 200. The results of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) started in 2015 indicate that the top-ranking institutions are mostly public-funded central universities/institutions. India is also in the process of establishing world-class universities or institutions of eminence. There are doubts about the wisdom of relying on the rankings to affect overall quality improvement in the sector.

The employer confidence in the quality of higher education graduates is low; so also are the employability skills of the graduates. It is expected that the universities will be revising the curriculum based on the National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) with more emphasis on employability skills. The NEP 2019 envisages setting up of a General Education Council (GEC) for defining expected to learn outcomes and graduate attributes. The relevance of curriculum and quality of its transactions will determine the employment outcomes of the graduates in the future.

Internationalization of Higher education

How to develop a globally competitive and locally relevant framework for future higher education development is a major concern in India. A recent OECD report notes that in today’s world of interconnected labour markets, university graduates must have proficiency in international language and intercultural skills to be able to interact in a global setting.

Internationalization in the present context takes place mainly through cross-border mobility of programmes, students, institutions and teachers. With more than 300,000/ students studying abroad, India is the second-largest sending country in the world. However, the number of foreign students coming to India to pursue higher education is only around 46.000/. Indian students enrol in large numbers (second largest) in MOOCs and Indian professors cross borders quite often.

The Indian approach to internationalization stems more from its policy of extension of soft power and diplomatic relationships than from revenue generation motives. India has initiated several programmes to promote internationalization to make India an education hub with a target of attracting 500,000/ international students by 2024. India launched the ‘Study in India’ programme which attracted around 6,000/ students from over 30 countries in 2018. India plans to provide 2500 scholarships under the ‘Study in India’ program, 4000/ scholarships by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and a massive plan to fund at least 50,000 scholarships by the academic year 2023-24.

The government of India launched a programme called Global Initiative for Academic Network (GIAN). More than 1280 scholars from 56 countries have visited and taught in Indian higher education institutions in 2017-18. Several programmes such as ‘PM Scholars Return to India’ are expected to encourage engagement of foreign scholars in Indian higher education. The Scheme for Promotion of Academic Research and Collaboration (SPARC) launched in 2018 attempts to promote research collaboration with reputed institutions in the world. With a plan to invest more than Rs.93/ billion on internationalization initiatives, India has the potential to emerge as an important global player in education.

Concluding observations

The discussions in the paper indicate that: a) further expansion of the sector will increasingly be relying on private funding and technology-based learning facilities. The challenge may be to manage equity and diversity in a technology-mediated market framework of expansion; b) the curriculum relevance, quality of learning and employment outcomes will continue to be a challenge in the future; and c) several initiatives and heavy investment made in internationalization will make India an education hub and a global player in education in the near future.

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